SC Artisans: The Earring Lady Creates Colorful Glass Jewelry

By:Libby Wiersema


There was a purple woman, who had a purple house, who made jewelry out of rainbows. Fairy tale? Not quite. Meet Barbara Mellen, a South Carolina artist who dresses in purple and works from a purple house. And what does she make inside? Colorful earrings and necklaces that have caught the eye and interest of hundreds of gift shop owners across the nation.

It’s no lie – slipping on a pair of Barbara Mellen’s earrings is like wearing pieces of a rainbow. These resplendent baubles seem to grab the light, absorbing it for a moment before releasing a bouquet of color that changes at different angles. A long-time stained glass artist turned jewelry artisan, Mellen works in glass the way painters work in watercolors or oils. The results are just as compelling with each earring or necklace reflecting light and wavelengths of color that draw and delight the eye.

“It became apparent that creating stained glass art was not sustaining me financially, but I need to work with glass,” said Mellen, whose business is simply called The Earring Lady. “So around the turn of the century, I began making earrings. And each piece starts from scratch, right down to the ear wires, which my sister makes from nickel-free sterling silver so people with allergies can wear them.”

More than 200 specialty shops across the country sell Mellen’s designs, created by hand using dichroic glass, which is distinguished for its unique iridescent coating. It was developed more than a century ago and used by NASA on space shuttle windows. What sets it apart from other types of glass is its propensity to reflect different colors when light hits it from various angles. With a shimmer similar to opal, dichroic glass jewelry is stunning to look at and exciting to wear.

In her workshop, Mellen assembles and cuts dichroic glass into small shapes, sometimes topping them with colorful lines of glass called stringers. The pieces are fired in a kiln to meld them and enhance color, then fired again to ensure the edges are smooth and the glass molecules “are happily fused.” Holes are then drilled into the glass pieces and wires attached.

Choose from hundreds of designs in a kaleidoscope of colors, shapes and sizes. Some earrings are paired with necklaces for a coordinated look. With earring prices beginning at $18, owning quality artwork is quite affordable. You can find Mellen’s jewelry in shops from Colorado to Maine to the Carolinas and places in-between, as well as a limited collection online from her website. For the broadest selection, however, take a drive to Florence and visit the purple house on Second Loop Road. Bonus: Gifts are wrapped for free in a pretty purple box with a pretty purple bow.

The Earring Lady

2717 Second Loop Road, Florence, 843.317.1732

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